Michigan issues three-week epidemic order closing schools and indoor dining as COVID-19 cases spike

Sunday, November 15, 2020 - 6:47pm

Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a press conference in November.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a press conference in November. Buy this photo
Courtesy of Michigan Executive Office

Following a record-breaking week for COVID-19 cases in Michigan and a worsening situation across the country, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued an emergency epidemic order Sunday evening, implementing new restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.

The order, which takes effect Wednesday at 12:01 a.m., limits indoor gatherings to two households at a time, closes indoor dining at bars and restaurants and shuts down casinos and movie theaters. Colleges and high schools must stop in-person learning and move to a remote-only format, while K-8 schools are allowed to remain open if stringent precautions are in place. The order will last for three weeks. 

According to the press release, college and professional sports “meeting extraordinary standards for risk mitigation” are allowed to continue without spectators, but other club or high school sports must temporarily stop.

In a press release, MDHHS Director Robert Gordon said this order was mainly targeted at indoor gatherings where transmission of COVID-19 is most likely but stopped short of declaring a stay-at-home order similar to the ones issued in the spring at the start of the pandemic.

Indoor gatherings are the greatest source of spread, and sharply limiting them is our focus,” Gordon said. “The order is targeted and temporary, but a terrible loss of life will be forever unless we act. By coming together today, we can save thousands of lives.”

Whitmer said the order came at the recommendation of public health officials. She emphasized the need for drastic action from state officials and lawmakers.

“Public health experts are warning Americans everywhere to limit our indoor gatherings so that we can save lives,” Whitmer said. “These steps are what the public health experts say we must take to avoid overwhelming hospitals and death counts like we saw in the spring.”

According to Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS, as of yesterday Michigan had a total of 251,813 confirmed cases and 7,994 deaths due to COVID-19. In the last week, 44,019 more people tested positive for COVID-19 and 416 have died. Models predict that by Feb. 15 there could be as many as 20,000 additional deaths in Michigan alone. 

Overall, 12.5% of tests returned in the state were positive this past week.

Many hospitals are on the brink of being overwhelmed due to a lack of resources as conditions in Michigan become even more dire than at the start of the pandemic, when Detroit was a hotspot. 

“We are in the worst moment of this pandemic to date, the situation has never been more dire, we are at the precipice and we need to take some action,” Whitmer said. “A leading model shows that if we don’t take aggressive action right now, we could soon see 1,000 deaths per week in Michigan.”

For the first time since the start of the pandemic, more than 65,000 people nationwide are hospitalized and hospitals like Michigan Medicine are preparing for an even greater influx of patients. 

In October, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that Whitmer did not have the authority to extend emergency COVID-19 orders and precautions after April 30. Local and state agencies, including Washtenaw County, have instituted their own precautions to keep communities safe and enforce social distancing. 

The Washtenaw County Health Department issued a two week stay-at-home order on Oct. 20 specifically directed at University of Michigan undergraduate students following COVID-19 spikes on campus. The two-week mandate expired on Nov. 2. Overall, there was a reduction in cases associated with the University — however, COVID-19 cases in Washtenaw County remained consistently high. 

On Nov. 6, the University announced plans for the upcoming winter semester after what University President Mark Schlissel said was an “unacceptable” number of cases on campus. These changes include reducing residence hall capacity for freshmen, fewer in-person and hybrid classes and increased testing availability.

In a statement Sunday night, Schlissel said the school would work to follow the rules issued by the state.

“We’re currently studying the details of the guidelines to ensure full compliance through the end of our in-person term & beyond,” Schlissel wrote. “More details coming soon.”

Daily Staff Reporter Hannah Mackay can be reached at mackayh@umich.edu.


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